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Movie Musical Monday, May 28th: ‘Summer Stock’

May 28, 2012

Good Morning, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

Today’s film marks the easing in of a new season with 1950’s Summer Stock.

This movie musical would be the final film Judy Garland completed with MGM.  Later in 1950, she would work on Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire, but fired from the film because of personal/health reasons (we all know, so I won’t go into it).  Her contract with MGM ended upon mutual agreement in September of that year.  Summer Stock would also be the third and final time she appeared on screen opposite Gene Kelly, who has been noted for his extreme patience in helping Garland rehearse and shoot this film.  Kelly’s compassion seems expected for two reasons:

  1. Garland was a key figure in getting Kelly his first film, starring opposite her in For Me And My Gal.
  2. Everyone knows that Gene Kelly is a terrific guy.

Can you feel the warmth and charm radiating from that smile?  I can.

WHAT IS THIS MOVIE MUSICAL ABOUT?

Judy Garland plays Jane Falbury, a young woman who runs her family farm all by herself–with the help of Marjorie Main, obviously.  The film opens with Jane in the shower singing about…singing.

How strange, that a girl who loves singing, and clearly sings so well should be stuck on a farm in overalls.  She has so much talent that she is apparently unconscious of.  Clearly, this must mean something.

Esme (Marjorie Main) enters and tells Jane that Zeb and Frank, the last remaining farm hands, are downstairs in their Sunday clothes.  BUT IT’S NOT SUNDAY.   Jane braces herself for the Shit That is About to Go Down, and starts off.  Downstairs, the men tell her they’re quitting.  It seems the farm has fallen on hard times, and it’s been a while since either of them have been paid. After failing to convince them to stay, Jane wishes them well and gives them car fare.  She and Esme go into the kitchen and fret (because that’s where women do their most effective fretting–aside from bathrooms) about all of the manual labor they will be unable to perform (because they’re women, and that is of course beyond them).  Then Jane spies a picture on a calendar and it occurs to her: If they had a tractor, all of their problems would be solved!  She runs off to buy one on credit, for you see: even though the farm is possibly in debt, and a tractor is very expensive, Jane’s fiance of FOUR YEARS, Orville Wingait, works at the general store.  In fact, his father owns the place, so Jane is pretty much set up.

However, Orville is not necessarily the man-of-your-dreams-type (and is played very convincingly as such by Eddie Bracken).  He’s a very timid man, who worries quite a bit, and is constantly sneezing from chronic hay fever.

Allergies = Not Sexy.  

When Jane requests the tractor, Ovrills’s a bit agahst, and tells her he’ll have to ask his father’s permission.

A Fiance of Four Years Asking Permission From His Father to Give His Affianced a Present That She’s Depending On For Survival = Not Sexy.

Orville’s father, Jasper (Ray Collins, who is really great in this part) is also initially shocked by the tractor request.  He reminds Jane that since she’s Orville’s intended, they could just get married and all her debts with the store could be cleared.  Their families are the oldest in the area, and it’s about time they converged.  But Jane doesn’t want to (marry Orville) be a charity case, and is determined to get in her crops and pay off her debts herself.  Jasper magnanimously tells her she can have the tractor, then has to yell at Orville to help her pick it out.

Having to Be Told By You Father How to Court Your Own Fiance = Not Sexy.

So that’s three strikes against Orville, and we’re all ready to move on with our lives.  Jane drives the tractor home and celebrates with a song.  Because if you feel like singing…

Did you see her face of exhaustion after that final note?  I know that was a “moment” they decided to put into the film while she was lip synching, but if I had to belt for 20 beats straight over and over again, I’d probably need drugs at some point, too.

When Jane returns to the farm, all of these people are there.  But not just people: SHOW PEOPLE.  Actors everywhere are unloading props and scenery, and causing a general ruckus.  But this a farm, not a theater–What’s going on?!  Suddenly someone runs into her.  It’s Joe Ross (Gene Kelly), the director of this whole shebang, who is taken aback by Jane’s wholesome looks and fresh country face when he first sees her.  She asks him what they’re all doing there, loading scenery into her barn that still has livestock in it.  And wouldn’t you know: Jane’s sister Abigail is in the show as the leading lady, and she told Joe that they could use the family barn as a performance space to try out the show for backers.

(NOTE: I have performed in a barn before, and trust me, it is no place to try out a show for backers.  Aside from homicidal mother birds, there are bats that will upstage your performance at dusk.  You haven’t really acted until you’ve worked in a barn.  But if you care about your career, leave the barn circuit as quickly as possible.)

Now, Abigail has no idea that the farm is in trouble.  Jane doesn’t bring it up, to save from upsetting her little sister, who is the opposite of Jane in that she’s all sex and shallowness with no heart.  But then, no one else will ever find out that the farm is in trouble.  Why?  Because that seemingly significant plot point goes unmentioned FOR THE REST OF THE FILM.  But don’t worry about it: there’s plenty more to see and look at.

Jane initially tells Joe he has to go, because this is just ludicrous really.  Joe was under the impression that Jane knew this was all happening.  Jane confronts Abigail, who very selfishly says, “Our barn was just sitting there, so DUH–of course I told my fiance we could rehearse in it.  I am the star, you know.”  Jane tells her that “This is a farm,” and that “these people just won’t fit in here.”  Jane sees Joe and tells him to get out, but decides to let them spend the night after he delivers this speech to her:

“What makes you think that putting on a show is just a lot of laughs?  You oughta try it sometime.  You ought to try rehearsing all day, knocking yourself out in the same routine so you’re doin’  ‘em in your sleep.  That’s what these kids have been doing for weeks.  In empty warehouses, garages, any place they can find.”

Then Abigail throws a fit at dinner, and tells Jane she doesn’t want to run a farm, she wants to make something of herself.  Apparently running a farm is beneath Abigail.  Jane, acting as sudo-mother/big sis relents and tells Joe the company can stay, on ONE condition: the actors have to help out with the chores around the farm.  Joe accepts, and reminds everyone (with the help of Phil Silvers) that you have to pay your dues in order to succeed in this business:

Gene Kelly is the only man who can really pull off loafers, socks, and high-hemmed chinos.

The actors don’t turn out to be great farm hands (big surprise there), and Phil Silvers is pulling some shenanigans when he wrecks Jane’s brand new tractor.  Joe and the piano player/handyman are trying to fix it during a dance held for the town’s historical society–hosted by Jane in her barn, and supervised by her intended-father-in-law–when some local boys run in, see the busted tractor, and run out to ask Jane if they can have the tires.  Joe runs after them into the barn, and to keep Jane from talking to them begins to dance with her.  Pretty soon, all the show people, who had been relegated to the hay loft, get into it.  What follows is probably the best dance duet of Judy Garland’s career, where she is step for step with the ever brilliant Gene Kelly:

After the number, Jane gets into an argument with Jasper and tells him he can have his stupid tractor back.  But then she sees the busted thing and cries, running off and leaving Joe alone to feel guilty about disappointing the girl he is falling in love with.

The next morning, Jasper has a meeting with Orville and Jane and reminds Jane that her own ancestor past a law in the 1500’s saying that no theatre folk were allowed ’round these parts.  She promises that they’ll be gone soon.  When she gets home, there’s a brand new tractor waiting there to greet her.  It seems that those lowly theatre folk had all chipped in and bought her a new one, with Joe Ross putting in the most by selling the one asset he had: his station wagon.  Jane is moved, and starts really falling for Joe a few scenes later when he lets her sniff some grease paint while he explains his love for the stage:

“Go easy, that’s very potent stuff.  You smell that once too often and it gets way down deep inside of ya.  Oh, you can wipe it off your face alright but you’ll never get it out of your blood.

Joe tries to explain the show by singing a number and dancing with Jane, after which they TOTALLY START MAKING OUT.  Jane breaks it off just in time to run into the house where Orville and his father are waiting.  Jasper demands that Jane settle on a wedding date.  She consents by saying she will marry Orville once the actors leave.  Then she sings this awesome song that I did not know existed until I watched this film:

Isn’t that an awesome pan to Gene Kelly, all angsty in the rocking chair?  But she doesn’t know he’s there, loving her.  It’s AWESOME.   Hearing this song also makes me realize that the detail work on her dress are not snowflakes, but stars.  But they look like snowflakes, right?

The next day, Abigail throws a fit in rehearsal and Gene Kelly lays into her.  Judy Garland runs to her defense, and Joe says he’ll lay off (because he is in love with Jane).  At the end of the day, he dances this amazing dance on a bare stage, reprising the tune he had sung to Jane earlier in the film:

The following day, Jane is helping Abigail rehearse her lines where the Dame throws another fit, and Jane sees just how difficult she is.  Then she runs off with the male lead to New York and the show is in crisis.  Sure, Joe is confident he could play the male lead himself, but what about the girl?  WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO FOR THE GIRL?!  But wait–Joe had danced with Jane earlier in the film AND heard her sing.  Surely she has what it takes to do it!  Jane reluctantly agrees, and starts on a stringent rehearsal schedule, which puts a definite if not final strain on her relationship with Orville.

Finally, the night of the show comes.  It’s a real variety show, with different costumes and sets and a space that looks nothing at all like a barn (whoops).  The best known number from the finale is “Get Happy,” where you will see Judy Garland at a different weight than she was for filming the rest of the movie–she had taken a few weeks of between finishing the film and sooting this sequence, and had gotten back down to about 90lbs here.  She did this in three takes.

The show is clearly a hit (we don’t actually have that validated by any source, but it’s probably true), Joe and Jane end up together, and the farm is SAVED (probably)!

End of musical–and of Judy Garland’s career at MGM.  She had been with the studio for fifteen years.  She was twenty-eight years old, and out of a job.

HIDDEN GEM SONGS:

  1. “Dig Dig Dig Dig for Your Dinner”–A good, easful jazz song.  A great choice for some Cole Porter shows, possibly some Richard Adler.
  2. “Friendly Star”–A great song for Margy  in State Fair,  or basically any character pining away for love in a mezzo key.
  3. “Howdy Neighbor”–A good song for an Annie Okaly uptempo, since it shows off that range well and has a country feel to it.

That’s all for today.  Have wonderful Memorial Day picnics, and Happy Movie Musical Monday!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. California Triple-Threat permalink
    May 28, 2012 3:57 pm

    My favorite moment in this movie will always be Gene’s tap dancing and splicing newspapers. Its so incredible and, I feel, very under appreciated. Also, I’d always wondered about her weight change!

Trackbacks

  1. Cam Reviews: Summer Stock | sally cooks
  2. Summer Stock (1950) | The Blonde At The Film

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